CHART Teen Task Force established a mission to provide teens with the information to make responsible, informed decisions about their sexuality.

*Editor’s Note: This story is an installment in a 13-week series highlighting volunteers and organizations that benefit from United Way funding in the Hannibal area.

“Unintended teen pregnancies are very upsetting,” said Claudia Buckman, Treasurer of CHART Teen Task Force.

She would know. For 36 years, Buckman was the Program Director of the North East Community Action Corporation’s Family Planning Clinic. During her time in this role she was with many teen girls when they found out they were pregnant.

“One year we had two girls come into the clinic back to back that were pregnant,” shared Buckman, “The girls were both 12. It was heartbreaking.”

In 1995, Buckman and other community leaders, met to identify health needs in Northeast Missouri. At this time, the percentage of teens pregnant locally was higher than both the state and national average. For this reason, teen pregnancy was identified as an issue in Northeast Missouri and the CHART Teen Task Force, a United Way Agency, was formed. Buckman was a founding member.

CHART Teen Task Force established a mission to provide teens with the information to make responsible, informed decisions about their sexuality. The vision of the task force is to create a healthy community with no unplanned teen pregnancies and no sexually transmitted diseases. The mission and vision was close to Buckman’s heart.

“You see all of these things happening first hand and you become committed to help in any way you can,” said Buckman.

Since 1995, she has been an active member of the board of directors and worked alongside Dr. Sandra Ahlum, CHART Teen Task Force Board Chair, to ensure programs were developed to help the organization make its vision come to life within Northeast Missouri.

CHART Teen Task Force has multiple programs that help educate teens. Each year billboards are put up throughout the area that promote conversation between parents and their children about sexual issues.

“The object is trying to get that parent and child to talk,” said Buckman. When children learn about these topics from their parents they aren’t learning about them from their peers.

CHART Teen Task Force also provides a sexuality educator for local schools. This sexuality educator goes into schools and teaches middle and high school students about puberty, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, birth control, abstinence, sexting, and other related topics.

During the school year, CHART provides Real Care Baby Simulators to local schools. The organization owns 25 baby simulators that are loaned out to schools for teachers to send home with students.

These baby simulators cry, have to have their diapers changed, be kept the appropriate temperature, have to be fed, and more. The cost of these baby simulators is nearly of $1,000. Buckman wrote a grant to secure funding through the Children’s Trust Fund to purchase these simulators.

Buckman’s biggest role with the organization is coordinating the Teen Health Fair. On the first Saturday in February CHART hosts the Teen Health Fair for area teens to come and learn all about various safety issues. The organization coordinates area agencies to have interactive booths and activities where teens attending can learn about gun safety, mental health safety, basic first aid, seatbelt safety, and more.

CHART Teen Task force began in 1995 because of seeing an issue in the community. According to KidsCount.org, in 1995, within the five counties the United Way of the Mark Twain Area serves, there were 127 births to teens. In 2016, that number dropped to 47 — a decrease of 63 percent.

Buckman’s continued dedication to CHART has resulted in this decrease.

“We can’t ever let up even when the numbers are looking better,” she said, “because there are always new teens.”

Through her work with the CHART Teen Task Force, Buckman lives out the United Way’s motto to Be the Change. To learn more about the United Way visit http://unitedwaymta.org

Denise Damron is the Executive Director of the United Way of the Mark Twain Area.